Dark Knight postscript
Over the summer, I saw The Dark Knight three times in the theaters, and came away stunned and baffled each time — it elevates the superhero genre so much, in so many different ways, it makes Batman Begins look like Batman Forever and it makes the 1989 Batman look like the 1966 Batman. It solves many of the problems inherent in the genre and places the characters in a complex continuum, instead of a hermetically-sealed corporate product. In many ways it is still as broad and "comic-booky" as any superhero movie, but by taking its characters seriously as human beings and thinking their actions through on a broad social level it succeeds in creating cinematic characters that breathe and speak to us. It is also a god-damn freakin’ plot machine, a script so complex and ambitious that I can only sit and wonder at it. Ideas in movies are easy, but plot is hard, and superhero plots are some of the hardest of all, which is why no one — until The Dark Knight — has managed to pull it off. And then, to have the movie be about the hero’s failure instead of his triumph, and then to have it go on to be the biggest movie in the history of the genre, well, that’s some kind of amazing thing.
In August, I had a meeting with a producer who has had some experience producing Batman movies. The Dark Knight was still the number one movie in theaters that day, and conversation naturally turned to it.
ME: So — The Dark Knight.
PRODUCER: I know.
PRODUCER: I know. It’s amazing. I know.
ME: So. You tell me. You make this kind of movie. You tell me. How?
PRODUCER: How what?
ME: How does a movie like that get made? In this environment, where anything complicated or challenging or pessimistic or visionary get ironed out to appeal to the broadest possible market, how does a movie like that get made? That’s an expensive movie with a lot of moving parts — the producers, the cast, the special effects, the location shooting — how does a picture like that get made, and end up that good?
PRODUCER: Because Christopher Nolan gets no notes.
ME: What do you mean?
PRODUCER: I mean, the studio gives him no notes. None. Zero.
ME: The director gets no notes?
ME: So, you’re telling me, Christopher Nolan and his brother write the script —
PRODUCER: And then they shoot it. And the studio gives them no notes. They’ve given them the project, they trust their vision, and they let them shoot it the way they want. And that’s how a movie like that gets made.